I keep a close eye on the GP2 championship as it is clearly the best series for spotting future F1 drivers. Plus, it’s very entertaining racing.
Last season’s champion Timo Glock has already made an impact on F1 but the man he beat to the title, Lucas di Grassi, didn’t make much of an impression on me.
I might have to revise my opinion of him soon however, as his return to the championship this year is going very well.
Di Grassi is part of the Renault Driver Development programme which brought Heikki Kovalainen and Nelson Piquet Jnr into F1.
Last year was di Grassi’s second season in GP2 and he raced for ART Grand Prix. The team had won the previous two GP2 championships with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
At the start of the season, either di Grassi or team mate Michael Ammermuller were therefore among the favourites to win the title. Ammermuller was injured early on, so di Grassi looked like being ART’s best bet.
Even taking into account Timo Glock’s form for iSport in the second half of 2006, and his pedigree as a driver who’s made four F1 starts already, I was underwhelmed by di Grassi’s efforts in 2007.
Glock suffered some galling car failures but di Grassi rarely seemed poised to capitalise. He often brought the car home in the points, but managed just a single win all year with the team that had dominated GP2 thus far.
After he failed to win the title he became one of Renault’s three F1 test drivers but, like Romain Grosjean and Sakon Yamamoto, he has seen little action in that role. But then came an opportunity to return to GP2 with the Campos team, after their driver Ben Hanley was dropped.
(Hanley is also an RDD man and it’s a shame that, after his decent performances in World Series by Renault last year, he only got a handful of GP2 starts to prove himself before being dropped. Presumably money was involved).
Di Grassi’s return to GP2 has been very successful. Yes, it should be, for he has done two years in the category already. But he is driving an entirely different design of chassis to what he had in 2006 and 2007, yet has scored 39 points in eight races, including a win and three second places. It’s put him third in the championship and still capable of winning it, though the odds are against him.
So could he have a role in F1 in the near future? Regardless of whether or not he belongs in Formula 1 on merit, marketability may be a problem. Renault already has a Brazilian driver in the shape of Nelson Piquet Jnr.
Two other teams have Brazilians (Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Honda’s Rubens Barrichello) and di Grassi’s GP2 rival Bruno Senna is considered very likely to get an F1 drive. But then, there are already five German drivers in F1, so why not five Brazilians as well?
But perhaps the strongest argument against di Grassi is that he’s yet to win a championship in any significant junior formula. Yes, he won the 2005 Macau F3 Grand Prix which is a prestigious event, but it’s a one-off event and not a measure of a sustained, season-long championship-winning performance.
What do you think of Lucas di Grassi?
Read more about Lucas di Grassi: Lucas di Grassi (Meet the rookies)